on 18 July 2005
A film that inspired so many other directors and often referred to as one of the great films of all time, Le chagrin et la pitié, to use the film's French title, was made for French television in 1968 by Marcel Ophüls but the broadcasters refused to show it, so disturbing were the contents thought to be. Ultimately it received a limited release, mainly being shown in "art house" cinemas where it's reputation spread. The film was eventually broadcast on French television in 1981.
This masterpiece, running at over 4 hours and divided into two parts dealing with the occupation of France and the choices made by the French people during the occupation, is a time capsule. Consisting mainly of interviews, interspersed with archive footage, the film was made when the participants - French, German and British - were still alive and the memory of the events still fresh in their minds. Their stories - the collaboration and the resistance, the attitudes and perspectives of real people - render this period of French history together into a profound and thought provoking film that will give all who see it pause for thought. Historical amnesia benefits no one.
The subtitled film is divided into two clear halves conveniently split over 2 DVDs. This edition includes an interview conducted in 2004 with the director.
on 11 January 2010
Stunning, illuminating and completely compelling documentary of WW2 France. Repeated viewings do not detract from the impact made by the retrospective accounts gleaned from often very ordinary people who found themselves in totally extraordinary situations. From the modest, matter of fact but 'hard as nails' farm labourers who fought with the Resistance to the landed gentry and castle owner who elected to serve not with the Resistance but astonishingly as a founder member of the SS French Division. This seminal film brilliantly captures a polarised French society in the late 1960's struggling to come to terms with it's recent history, its courage and strengths but also with the deceipts, acquiescence, and frailties of many of its citizens. I do not find that the subtitles detract from this moving experience. Simply, my favourite film of all time and I will continue to watch it again and again.
on 8 January 2008
If you are a native English speaker with only a rudimentary knowledge of French as I have, you will struggle with this film. This version was made for English speakers as the subtitles are only when the French or Germans are speaking. But, for some reason, the subtitles drop off or malfunction about 25% of the time. This leaves a very frustrated viewer as entire subjects can be left hanging.
The subject matter is excellent though some of the interviews are a bit drawn out. Very artistic filming of those being interviewed which helps make the four hours interesting.
Black and White Documentary shot in the 1960's and initially not too appealing; but then as it unravels and meticulously details the events between 1940-1945 it becomes spellbinding: No wonder it created such a huge impact when first screened in France.
Ordinary French people, unlike the Poles, seemingly caved in to the Germanic overlords. The middle classes in particular, welcomed them as liberators from Leon Blum and the Popular Front, the pre war socialists. Whilst in 1939 the ladies of Paris clubbed together to buy rose bushes for the soldiers who manned the Maginot Line because it was feared they would be bored, staring at concrete, they were ready to soiree with the new Meister's in 1940 when they stomped around Paris.
Within a matter of weeks, France, a country that had bled itself dry in 1914-18 to keep the Teutons at bay, became severed into three parts; over manned by Germany, underwhelmed by Vichy and thin sliced by Fascist Italy.
France, the originators of European Nationalism became a vassal state to the 3rd Reich. Nominally kept out of the fighting, although it supplied the SS Charlemagne Division to the Eastern Front, it sent many workers to Germany to keep the German factories ticking over with a constant stream of munitions. Thereby, France freed up the Reich to send its young men to their early deaths on the Russian Steppes.
Composed of a series of interviews, some are former French Nationalist combatants, other Communists and Royalists as well as Gaullists, the documentary weaves a sense of historical magic as it strips away the amnesiac blanket France has covered herself in since 1940. She was not just conquered but she soired and sections of the population secretly welcomed the newcomers to liberate them from their peasants. Whilst the Germans embraced volk nationalism, the French turned their back on a Gallic identity to split themselves between Franks and Gauls. Absolutely incredible. These testimonies are powerful.
France under Petain, the piece of France the french were left to govern set about completing a self described Aryan mission. Jews, Communists and undesirables were sent to concentration camps, Drancy and numerous others before being shipped out to Poland. Anti English propaganda resonated from the Gallic loudspeakers and in true Orwell-speak the former German enemies were now deemed friends and the former ally became a pariah. Polish and French Jews who fought for the Foreign Legion against the Germans were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp in the Sahara. Ironically the Foreign Legion sent to fight the Viet Cong in 54 was composed of former Nazis.
Meanwhile France adjusted to the occupation with great relish, more so than we were led to believe within the UK. Recruiting under Doriot it formed its own militia; the milice, its police force again over-manned and led by Bousequet who continued in the role after the war. Each was complicit with flourishes in rounding up Jewish families and carting them off to the showers and onto the ovens.
Former Communist resistance, royalist resistance, Jewish people who survived Drancy and the other camps, paint a picture of a life that became a total spectacle, the mundanity of adaptation to the bully in the playground became a norm, as the French largely played the stooge. Salutations to those who resisted and sheltered the Jewish population, of which there were many! It was not all doom and gloom.
This film puts Ferdinand Celine's diatribes in a particular perspective, although he does not come out of this debacle with any credit, but he was also far from being someone who was out of synch with the general mood. Writer of Beaux Draps, Mea Culpa, Bagatelles and Cadavers this film details how a large huge chunk of the population became agnostic whilst a significant section were sheer advocates of all things Teutonic.
Meanwhile students, some intellectuals and rugged farmers created a resistance.
This is deeply fascinating, as it shows how nationalism, such a driving force in history can be eradicated in a blip of someones jackboot. All the certainties of the week before, suddenly become trashed and stamped upon.
A great piece of film making that brings out the thoughts of Jan Karski in Poland and details how National Socialism wrought great seismic changes that still echo under the radar even today.
on 19 June 2010
Ophuls examination of the fall of France in 1940 and life under the Nazis for the next five years will leave a lasting impression on your mind 'He marries archive film with later interviews over the whole range of participants from collaborators to resistance fighters. This marrying together of archive and interview is brilliantly done and far superior to the ghastly historical reconstructions that TV often goes in for. Although the film deals with France its impact is universal in that it shows the height and depths to which mankind can reach.At the same time it is always entertaining, its emotional impact is greater than most dramas.Not to be missed it truly is one of the all time documentary greats
on 25 March 2010
This is a powerful and incisive account through interviews carried out soon after the war, of people from all walks of life and political persuasion in Vichy France during the WWII. It is a good indication of the fascism that existed in France, bolstered by the bourgeoisie, the anti British feeling, the cruelty of the French to their own people including the Jews, the continuing pride of the common German soldier in Germany's actions during the war, the experience of those brave individuals who truly joined and fought in the resistance and the immediate aftermath of the war and the myth created by de Gaulle.
This myth has cushioned France against their inaction during the WWII. Watch this and you realise just how important keeping the European Community together is, nothwithstanding the difficulties. The cracks are papered over but have not gone.
Watch this. The film is in black and white with subtitles in English
on 3 February 2013
Should be compulsory viewing -
a. for far right sympathisers and apologists, to shame them;
b. for all French people who could do with a critical llok atb their 20th c history; and
c. for the blinkered British who smugly believe that we might have behaved better after defeat in 1940.
on 9 November 2013
German-born French-American documentary filmmaker Marcel Ophüls` documentary feature, made for television, which he co-wrote with French documentary filmmaker André Harris and which consists of two parts called "The Collapse" and "The Choice", premiered in West Germany, was shot on locations in France and Germany and is a France-Switzerland-West Germany co-production which was produced by André Harris and documentary filmmaker Alain de Sedouy. It tells the story about a commune in the Auvergne region in France nearby the country`s former capital city Vichy called Clermont-Ferrand 24 years after the German occupation of France (1940-1944) during the Second World War, the people of Clermont-Ferrand who survived the occupation, their living conditions during World War II, their relations with German soldiers and British allies, their political views, their views on the persecution of Jews and relations with them and their experiences of living under the occupation of another country.
Distinctly and finely directed by German-French-American filmmaker Marcel Ophüls, this finely tuned documentary which is narrated by the director and from multiple viewpoints, draws a comprehensive, intimate and informative portrayal of many French citizens` reactions to being confronted with direct, surprising, at times leading and interesting questions regarding their nation`s history and their own involvement in it. Through interviews with, amongst others, a former German Whermacht captain, a former prime minister of France, a former prime minister of Great Britain, an attorney during WW II, a pharmacist, a former British spy, members of the former French Resistance, a former French actor and musician and citizens of Clermont-Ferrand, this narrative-driven and in-depth documentary which is notable for its timely black-and-white cinematography by cinematographers Andre Gazut and Jürgen Thieme, creates a dense and invigorating depiction of international collaboration and relations within a French society marred by war which through a humane, hierarchical, political and historic viewpoint reflects on human conduct in times of war.
This sociological, conversational and at times humerous collection of war stories from the late 20th century which is set mostly in a city in France in the late 1960s and where the significant impact of war on a nation becomes tragically apparent, is impelled and reinforced by its fragmented narrative structure, efficient continuity, timely and comical use of music, use of archival and newsreel footage, interrelated stories, describing title "Le chagrin et la pitié", distinctive sense of irony, comment by a former member of La Résistance française regarding post-war Nazism : "A rose by another name is still a rose.", the extraordinary scene of an 18-year-old French girl who escaped from occupied France to London, England and Sir Anthony Eden`s graceful words about passing judgment. A cinematic, conscientious and eternalized documentation of history which in its poignantly rational manner conveys some of the atrocious truth about the consequences of war and the irrevocable affect it has left on history and humanity.
on 4 February 2013
This totally compelling and absorbing account of the resistance (and otherwise) of the French people under Nazi occupation revealed a number of things that the majority of people living in France would prefer not to be revealed - that very few French people took an active part in the resistance, that the resistance were often greatly disliked because of the reprisals that were carried out by the Germans after their actions and that most French people stayed well clear of the resistance and tried to get along with their German occupiers.
Before anyone in Britain condemns the French for this behaviour they should ask themselves this question - would things have been any different in Britain if we had been occupied by the Nazis? Remember, nobody in France or any of the occupied countries in 1940 knew if the British would ever return to the continent to liberate them and given the poor performance of the British and French armies in 1940 when they were completely outclassed by the German army it would not be surprising if most French people thought that the British would never be able to return and defeat the German army. Nobody knew if the Americans would ever enter the war and given how isolationist they were in 1940 it seemed highly doubtful. Given these facts is it surprising that most French people decided to live as best they could under occupation and try to get along with the Germans and not antagonise them.
The film which not surprisingly took a long time to be seen widely in France shows the defeat of the French army and the effect of the occupation and it concentrates on what happened in one French town. What happened there is probably typical of what happened everywhere in France and in other occupied countries in western Europe such as Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Norway. A few brave souls decided to join the resistance in 1940, others only took an active part after D-Day in 1944 when it became clear that the Germans would soon be kicked out of France and it shows how the citizens in various ways tried to cope with the consequences of the deprivation of their freedom and the loss of control over how could could live their lives. Parts of the film are agonising to watch and you cannot help but feel for the unfortunate people who found themselves in this position. I was left with the overwhelming feeling of thank God we were never occupied.
on 19 July 2009
I have a lot of books about WWII, the occupation, and the collaboration. I have books written from very diverse points of view, even from the side that defends the existence of a French Civil War from 1940 to 1944. In this documental you can learn a bit about the *real* resistance fighters (very few of those so called resistants or maquisards where real fighters until 1944, specially if we talk about French citizens), about the "collabos", and the idea of the war they have in England in the time where the French legitimate government were the Vichy one and De Gaulle was a noisy general exiled in England.
It's very interesting because you can hear the point of view of people whose live was better in the Petain's France. In the today's France It seems that they don't (and didn't) exist.
The English non-native speakers probably would like -as I do- a whole subtitle work, because when the audio is in English there is no subtitle.